Get ready to meet one of the best CEOs you never heard of.
In the past six months I've told you about a number of business leaders, past and present, whose companies benefited -- or stood to benefit -- in a big way from their special knowledge and expertise.
And for the shareholders who rode the coattails of these captains of commerce, the rewards have been huge.
Remember Lee Iacocca? In the late 1970s the deposed leader of Ford (NYSE: F) joined beaten-down Chrysler (a public company at the time), where he went on to engineer a package of federally backed loans and new products that jump-started the auto maker. As I noted in this article, shares of Chrysler were trading below $2.00 apiece in 1979; eight years later the company declared a 3-for-2 stock split when shares were over $52.00.
In December I wrote about an almost eight-fold rise in shares of Starbucks (SBUX) in less than four years, from single digits in November 2008 to a high of $62.00 under the guidance of CEO Howard Schultz. After an eight-year hiatus, the Starbucks founder took back the corner office in January 2008 and directed what he later termed "the company's holistic restoration." In other words, Schultz closed non-performing stores and re-emphasized quality and customer experience.
These days, Yahoo (YHOO) CEO Marissa Mayer is all the rage. And if you've been with StreetAuthority for a while, you know that we were among the first to recognize what her hiring could portend for the world's largest Internet portal. In citing Mayer's potential, Stock of the Month's Amy Calistri began accumulating shares of Yahoo last August, just three weeks after the former Google wunderkind came on board. At midweek, Amy was up a cool 50.2% on her Yahoo holdings. I chronicled Amy's recommendation here and here.
Which brings us to Randy Foutch.
He's not as iconic as Iacocca, he's not as "out there" as Schultz and he's not as flashy as Mayer. He's been interviewed on CNBC a few times, but outside of gas and oil exploration circles his name won't ring many bells.
But what Foutch brings to the table is a proven track record at making money in an industry where the rewards for investors can be famously handsome. And until recently, the only investors who could ride Foutch's coattails were the deep-pocketed ones in the private equity market.
Foutch is the founder and CEO of Laredo Petroleum (LPI), a relative newcomer to the energy industry -- and a company anyone with a brokerage account can invest in.
The Tulsa, Okla.-based Laredo was formed in 2006 and went public December 15, 2011, at about $18 a share. Since then share prices have fluctuated between a high of $26.87 last May and a low of $16.39 earlier this month.
But while Laredo may be still getting its bearings as a public company, its leader is well-versed in how to profit from the oil patch.
A geologist and petroleum engineer by training, Foutch built three successful oil and gas companies from the ground up prior to forming Laredo.
And that's the part of the CEO's resume that caught the attention of Junior Resource Advisor's Nathan Slaughter.
As Nathan reported to his readers, Foutch's first private company "did a great job of hunting down oil reserves and churning out rising cash flows. It was eventually sold at a nice profit. Those proceeds were parlayed into a second company that did the same thing, resulting in another sale. That paved the way for a third oil and gas company, and a third sale."
Debt and equity investors sank a combined total of $547 million into these three businesses, and they cashed out $1.1 billion.
"Whenever you're investing in a start-up with a limited track record, it's important to know who's calling the shots," said Nathan in the March issue of Junior Resource Advisor. "I look for executives with top-notch credentials and a strong industry background -- and that's certainly the case with CEO Randy Foutch."
On March 4, Nathan added 100 shares of Laredo to the real-money portfolio in Junior Resource Advisor at a price of $16.55 a share. On Thursday, shares closed at $18.28 -- a gain of 10.5% in less than a month.
Here's more from Nathan on Laredo...
Bob: We've covered the attraction of the CEO. What else drew you to Laredo?
Nathan: Look at what Laredo has already accomplished. The company was founded in 2006 with almost nothing -- today, it has quickly and efficiently amassed nearly 190 million barrels of oil reserves.
But here's what truly excites me. Within Laredo's core acreage, the company has identified 635 million barrels of potential oil and gas resources. That's four times the size of the current reserve base.
The market assigns more value to proved reserves than potential resources -- so there is huge opportunity as future drilling activity converts millions of these barrels into the "booked" category, forcing Wall Street to recalibrate the net present value of all that oil.
On that front, management has already budgeted $725 million in capital expenditures this year -- partly to evaluate and delineate the true potential of the firm's existing assets, partly to search for new discoveries to drive tomorrow's growth, and partly to harness the growing reserve base and bring more crude to market each day.
Bob: How can a company like Laredo, with a market cap of $2.3 billion, compete with a company like, say, Total (TOT), with a market cap of $108.3 billion?
Nathan: In some industries it couldn't. It's hard to out-muscle a larger competitor that's 40 to 50 times your size. But in this case, both companies are selling the same product at roughly the same price -- and there are plenty of eager buyers.
Plus, when it comes to buying up large blocks of prime oil-soaked real estate, it's first come, first served. And Laredo was the first to capture 142,000 acres in the Permian basin of west Texas.
So what makes this particular hunting ground so great? It has to do with the extremely rare local geology. About 7,000 feet below the surface of Lubbock, Texas, lies the start of the upper Wolfcamp Shale, where Laredo is sitting on 240 million barrels of potential oil and gas resources.
By itself, that's enough to keep the company busy for years to come.
But if you dig a bit deeper (to 7,300 feet), you encounter an entirely different play: the middle Wolfcamp. Keep going to 7,900 feet, and there's a third: the lower Wolfcamp. And between 9,000 and 9,500 lies an even older zone called the Cline Shale.
Laredo was the first company to exploit horizontal drilling opportunities in the Cline Shale. When it sunk the first well there in 2009, there was only one drilling rig operating in the entire county -- today, there are forty. So you have four zones (all with proven success) stacked one on top of the other.
There is similar geography with the Utica Shale undercutting the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, offering leaseholders two drilling zones for the price of one. But to my knowledge, this is the only area where producers can milk four different horizontal plays from the same place -- meaning that Laredo's 142,000 acre position is equivalent to 568,000 acres in a single-zone formation.
And here's the best part: while Laredo's oil production is climbing at a 50%-plus pace (doubling every 18 months on average), the company has barely scratched the surface -- tapping only a fraction of its 5,600 identified drilling targets.
Bob: Most of our StreetAuthority Insider readers are probably not familiar with Junior Resource Advisor. What's your mission with this advisory?
Nathan: Most natural resource publications focus almost exclusively on just two sub-sectors: gold and oil. I certainly have favorites in those two groups, but I think they're just the beginning. Confining your portfolio to those two areas will lead to missed opportunities.
I look off the beaten path for overlooked companies that are profiting from a supply/demand imbalance for critical raw materials. Platinum and palladium miner Stillwater Mining (SWC), for example, has rewarded me with a 30.8% gain thus far. And Taseko Mines (TGB), which is up 22% from my initial recommendation, supplies important industrial metals such as molybdenum and niobium.
In recent issues I've covered timber, lithium, cobalt, and most recently zinc.
Aside from a broader universe of potential commodities, I also break away from the pack by focusing exclusively on small "junior" miners and energy producers. These companies have smaller bank accounts than their larger counterparts. But they are also growing at a much faster rate and offer better leverage to rising commodity prices.
Action to Take -- > If you're willing to shoulder more volatility in exchange for wealth-building triple-digit potential, then these smaller exploration companies are the best way to harness growing global demand for scarce natural resources.
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